Neymar Inc.: the machinery behind Brazil’s football star

3.22pm, October 23, 2014. Three days before Brazil’s presidential election run-off vote, two people exchange WhatsApp messages containing extracts from a statement from Neymar supporting Aécio Neves, the PSDB party candidate. The player himself was not part of the discussion.

“Your choice of candidate shouldn’t be a pitched battle, or a choice between good and evil, but instead, you can be certain that irrespective of which candidate you support, after victory at the ballot box there will be a victory for democracy. I’m supporting Aécio Neves as candidate because of his proposals for change in Brazil, but rest assured that regardless of the outcome on Sunday, I will continue to be at the service of my country and the President elected by the people,” read the final version, sent by Neymar da Silva Santos, Neymar’s father.

At 10pm that same day, Brazil’s No. 10 repeated the same words in a video shared via social networks and by the Neves campaign. Months earlier, in March, Neymar had been invited to take part in a campaign by the Dilma Rousseff government, aimed at reassuring the public about Brazil’s chances of success at the 2014 World Cup. The response came from “Mr. Neymar”, as the player’s father is sometimes called by employees.

“You can say no! As politely as possible”.

The political position of Neymar Jr. is one of several areas dealt with on a day-to-day basis by NR Sports and N&N Consultoria, Santos-based companies which make up the group that manages every aspect of the player’s image and career. Included in the juggling act are relations with clubs, sponsors, the Brazil national team and the press, with the final say always coming from Neymar Sr., partner, founder and president of the entire structure.

UOL Esporte delved deep into the workings of “Neymar Inc.” during an in-depth three month investigation of the business, with access to hundreds of emails, internal discussions and contracts, as well as conversations with businesspeople connected to the group, individuals close to the company and employees, always on the basis of anonymity. The operation is similar to that of a medium-sized company, according to the classifications of the BNDES development bank. Over a 12 month period between 2014 and 2015, for example, the organization’s turnover was R$62.4 million.

The idea of “Neymar Inc.” emerged almost by chance, as part of a strategy through which Santos could attempt to hold onto the club’s star player at the end of 2010. It became a reality in 2011 and has since become a respected business organization. Throughout all the tough negotiations, relations with Globo and the press in general, tensions with Barcelona and even in relation to his own opinions on issues, Neymar Jr. rarely speaks out. Today, the business operates practically 24 hours a day to ensure that the athlete has a single focus: playing football.

Executives from the Market, a Family Environment and “Pals” in the Background

The current NR Sports and N & N Consultoria model emerged from the difficulties Santos faced when up against the million-dollar salaries offered by European clubs. In order to compete, the club created a “career plan” for Neymar, which included English classes for a commercial consultant who could secure the sponsorship deals that would provide the financial backing to keep the player in Brazil.

The key to closing the deal was to divide up Neymar’s image rights, allowing the player to earn a percentage of all the revenue he brought to Santos. From 2011 onwards, the companies owned by his parents began to receive the majority of the income connected to Neymar – Santos received 30%, a figure which was subsequently reduced to 10% and eventually zero.

Excited by what Neymar was doing on the pitch, the financial markets reacted positively to the model. In 2014, by which time he had won the Libertadores, become a star at Barcelona and was Brazil’s biggest name in a World Cup year, the companies oversaw 60 deals, a number that has since grown. Leading the operation, Neymar Sr. scoured partner companies, the market and even his business’s “enemies” for key executives who could manage the various aspects of his son's career.

Banco Santander provided the economist Altamiro Bezerra, responsible for all financial matters and the man who made Neymar’s controversial transfer to Barcelona a reality; from Santos came the communication and marketing strongman Eduardo Musa, Ney's right-hand man until the end of 2015, when he departed after disagreements over pay. From the DIS group, today fighting in the Spanish courts to receive a larger share of the Barça money, came the lawyer Gustavo Xisto. Beneath them other names were hired from the market to complete the Santos-based company, which is housed in a four-story building with a facade covered from top to bottom by an image of Neymar in action. The photo is changed on a regular basis.

Beyond the executives and the areas of expertise, however, the company maintains a family feel. On a smaller scale, Neymar’s “pals” also have a role in the business, as well as providing company and entertainment for the player. Some are at university and are acquiring professional experience by working for the companies. Gilmar Lima, or “Gil the Onion”, for example, is part of Neymar’s career management team and is involved in contacting and negotiating with sponsors. 

The logic goes beyond the “dribbles” that footballers often attempt when dealing with the Brazilian tax authorities, earning part of their salary as a legal entity in order to pay less tax. In addition to Neymar’s father, his mother, Nadine Santos, is also a partner, although Neymar himself has never been a board member. The companies purchased his image rights, for which the player earns approximately $10 million a year. All the proceeds from sponsorship agreements and other commercial activities related to Neymar go straight into the NR Sports and N & N Consultoria cashflow.

The business structure soon appeared on the radar of the Brazilian tax authorities, who filed a suit claiming that the advertising income received by the companies should in fact be taxed as Neymar Jr.’s wages. The player’s father, however, has always argued that the company’s activities are separate from the player, and has stated on numerous occasions that he only receives the pay he is owed for his work managing his son's career. The courts have agreed, and N & N Consultoria and NR Sports have already won two victories in the Administrative Council of Tax Appeals, the inland revenue organ responsible for deciding the case.

In 2012, the companies added a social wing, the Instituto Neymar Jr., which was founded in 2014. The project is located in Jardim Glória, in Praia Grande, where Neymar spent his childhood, and focuses on the children of the region. It offers educational support, cultural and sports activities and basic health services to children and adolescents aged from seven to 17, as well as activities for parents and caregivers, and currently helps around 10,000 people.

“A Big F**ck Off to Them. The Best for Me and My Clients”

Neymar's father is a hard negotiator who takes a tough stance with clubs and sponsors. “A big f**ck off to them. The best for me and my clients,” was how he defined himself in an informal chat in 2014, when reacting to a story which criticized the fact that NR Sports had received €40 million from Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona the previous year.

Company policy demands that negotiations are carried out with the values already on the table. These are then passed on to Neymar Sr., who comes in to close the deal. In this way there is no need for the president to engage in the minutiae of each conversation, and proposals can be rejected before they even reach his desk.

The values involved in the commercial contracts vary greatly from country to country, when they were signed and the extent of Neymar Jr.'s involvement in the deal. In June 2015, for example, NR Sports demanded €3.5 million from a group of three Qatari companies, including Qatar Airways, for three days of photo shoots, three event appearances and three interviews per year. The counterproposal came back at €2.5 million, and Neymar's father's instructions were to hold off on the response. “Let's play their game”.

The same posture was applied to Barcelona, Neymar’s club until August 2017, and to Nike, the exclusive supplier of the player’s range of sports equipment. In 2015, the American company began to sell products with the Brazilian’s image in the official stores of the Catalan club, causing friction with NR Sports, which had not authorized the use. Talks got heated, with the companies linked to the player threatening to “take appropriate action“. Eventually Neymar Sr. intervened, suggesting as a solution that Barcelona make a payment to allow the sales to continue.

He is also demanding within the company. Talks and decisions made after 10 pm and before 6 am are common. “Mr. Neymar” takes employees to task and is irritated by failings in the system, such as when he has to get involved in negotiations and make decisions before the final stage. At the same time, dozens of conversations reveal an informal mood, with plenty of “joke” swearing. In a humorous memo in 2014, for example, Ney's father “banned” the use of emojis in internal company communications.

“Stop sending the little faces and stuff like that in your messages. Firstly, I can’t make them out. Secondly, I don’t understand them. If you want to keep sending them, make them giant-sized and with subtitles,” he ordered in the “memo” sent around the team. Giant subtitled emojis, of course, would never become commonplace in internal communications.

Much of the team that was created when the companies were founded in 2011 is still in place today, and all remain loyal to the Neymar family. “Neymar Inc.” also tries to pay attention to the player’s fans, and it is not uncommon for Neymar Sr. to personally read emails and fan requests. From time to time the firm even sends out shirts and tries to find space in the diary to agree to some requests, where possible.

Neymar is the Father. The Star Player is “Juninho”

This handover of the management of Neymar Jr.’s entire career only works thanks to one condition: the deep trust between father and son. Neymar Sr. has devoted his life to his son’s career since the player was a child. He dedicates himself to it completely and works as both mentor and counsellor. “Junior” has total respect for his father's word, and both defend themselves publicly whenever they feel the other is somehow being attacked.

Neymar da Silva Santos left his job as a CET employee in Santos in 2009 to dedicate himself exclusively to his son’s career, which he has always seen as a “business“. A former player himself, he realized that with support, discipline and a demanding approach, Neymar’s talent could change the family’s future.

“He’s our company. I’m the president along with my wife, and my daughter helps out. It's difficult. You say, 'Damn, I'm treating my son like a business.' Well, sure. Up to a certain point Neymar is my son, but from the moment he leaves home, he becomes my business. It's our job,” Neymar Sr. said in May 2011, four months before the companies were set up and the vast operation that takes care of Neymar's career began.

When Neymar was a child, it was his dad who decided that the boy should leave the kickabouts on the beach behind and devote himself entirely to training and competitive games on pitches and five-a-side courts. While on the courts, Neymar Sr. insisted that his son use his left foot when finishing, even if, at the time, cutting on to his right would produce better results.

Today, both are keen to publicly stress the complete trust that lies behind their relationship, especially at times of crisis. When the Spanish courts began to probe Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona in 2013, and the Brazilian tax authorities took action to investigate the activities of NR Sports and N & N Consultoria, the player leapt to his father’s defence.

In October 2015, as part of an investigation by the Brazilian tax authorities, NR Sports received an official notice regarding suspicions about the improper purchase of a Porsche. In Barcelona, an upset Neymar reacted defiantly to the criticism: he had a photo taken of himself sitting on a Ferrari in the garage of his home. “Thank God for giving me my health, and through the fruit of my labours, I can fulfil another childhood dream,” he said on Instagram. The attitude contradicted the advice of his counsellors, who had hoped for a more “measured” approach, but delighted his father.

In return, Neymar Sr. acts as a constant shield for his son: it was he who emerged onto the balcony to explain the decision to sign with Paris Saint-Germain to a horde of Barcelona fans last year. This year, once again, the player's father went public to state whether the fracture in Neymar’s right foot would require surgery or not.

Despite their closeness, keeping their identities separate is a constant concern. Neymar is the father while the son is Neymar Jr. In 2015, the companies which manage the athlete's career expressly requested that the CBF use the name “Neymar Jr.”, always with the “Jr.”, in all communications related to the player on its website, social networks and other media.

Control Over the Press and Relationship with Globo

It is July 18, 2014, ten days after the 7-1, and Neymar's team is angry. The player had agreed to give an interview to the Fantástico show on one condition: there would be no questions about Brazil’s crushing defeat. The worry was that the star would be positioned as “the national saviour ” or exempted from blame over the campaign, which would then annoy his teammates. In the end not only were the questions asked, but they appeared in a trailer for the show that was aired two days later.

Neymar’s father and his team are used to clashes with the press – within “Neymar Inc.”, Junior, as the player is known, is seen as the target of relentless persecution by media outlets from Brazil and abroad. The team does not understand why the greatest Brazilian player of his era, whose on-field production is unquestioned, has his life invaded instead of being treated as an idol and hero. In this respect Globo should be the exception. At the time of the aforementioned interview the companies had an exclusivity contract with the broadcaster, one of the aims of which was avoiding such cases.

“As we were guaranteed, the interview was to be recorded and if any subject, question or answer wasn’t considered appropriate, we could ask for it be excluded,” says the draft of a prickly e-mail exchange between Neymar’s father, Eduardo Musa and a third advisor, which was ultimately sent to Rede Globo chiefs.

Months earlier, in an article on the revenue generated by Neymar's “pals“, Globo reporters sent the final text to the player’s team. It was forwarded directly to Neymar's father so he could decide whether to add or remove anything before publication.

Such editorial interference is not an isolated case, meaning that those responsible for the management of Neymar Jr.'s image live in an ongoing state of contradiction. On the one hand, the player is a powerful media figure, a constant presence in advertising and a devoted user of social media, through which he exposes various aspects of his personality, from a taste for poker to light-hearted relationships with his friends. On the other hand, his team tries to restrict his presence in the press to events on the pitch, reacting with hostility to the inevitable interest of Brazilian and foreign media vehicles in the day to day life of one of the world’s biggest sporting personalities.

Whenever Neymar appears in the media, there is a constant concern about what questions will be asked. Advanced filtering of questions and the vetoing of certain subjects and undesirable situations are common occurrences in interviews and media appearances.

Since suffering a fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his right foot at the end of February this year, Neymar's team has kept his public statements to a minimum. Brazil’s No. 10 appeared on the Altas Horas and Caldeirão do Huck shows and delivered precious few exclusives. He talked to Desimpedidos and the ex-player Zico via their respective YouTube channels; former player Alex, on an ESPN show; the Jornal Nacional national news program, for a profile of squad call-ups; and VIP magazine, appearing alongside Tite on the cover. At his sole press conference, at a sponsor event, the questions were selected in advance. Not once was he expected to answer questions about negotiations with Real Madrid, a subject which was concerning him on the eve of the World Cup.

Everything is based on the idea of controlling the narrative that “Neymar Inc.” tries to exercise over its main asset, with the primary concern of ensuring the news is always limited to the field of play. His girlfriend, his son, legal disputes, transfer possibilities and even the logistics surrounding the treatment of his injury are treated as unsuitable subjects for a footballer.

In 2016, harsh criticism of the player during the early stages of the Olympics, especially from Walter Casagrande and Galvão Bueno, upset the relationship with Globo. The agreement between “Neymar Inc.” and the broadcaster, as revealed by the Folha newspaper in early 2018, would not be renewed, although the parties have since slowly become reacquainted.

The running of the machine that manages Neymar's career, however, has not changed, with the player always taking a back seat when faced with questions that even slightly stray beyond the four lines of the pitch. In April this year, Globo launched an operation to get him to appear on Altas Horas, with guests from his circle of friends, and went as far as sharing the same PR team. Unusually for a guest, the star did not have to face questions from the audience.

Globo, through its communications department, declined to comment on the details of the relationship, saying only that there is no longer a contract with Neymar’s people. “The contract cited no longer exists. It was signed in 2014 and referred to Neymar's special participation in the channel’s programs and campaigns, as well as the use of audio-visual content produced by the player,” said a statement sent to UOL Esporte.

The relationship with foreign outlets is less deep rooted, but follows similar lines. When requesting an interview in late 2015, a journalist from the Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo sent both a question and a pre-prepared answer, requesting only an “ok” from the player's team. And documents obtained by UOL Esporte reveal that the companies were paid for interviews in 2015, with sums ranging from R$120,000 to R$200,000 changing hands, in exchange for which Neymar would speak to Japanese television, with an employee of the Rede Bandeirantes broadcasting network acting as an intermediary. A further 20 minute appearance by the player was negotiated for R$70,000.

“Neymar Inc.” Diversifies its Partnerships and Survives Setbacks

The Neymar brand has grown enormously since the striker established himself as one of the stars of the Santos first team in 2010. The activities of NR Sports have followed his rise, and the company has assumed global status, with divisions in the North America, Asian and European markets. In his worldwide search for deals, the player's father has authorized an extensive list of intermediaries and agents to attract business.

One is Pini Zahavi, the Israeli businessman who was instrumental in Neymar's move to the French club PSG. Zahavi approached Neymar’s father in 2012, forming a friendship and becoming an important intermediary for deals in Asia. The Doyen Group is another partner and officially oversaw the deal between NR Sports and Konami, creator of the Pro Evolution Soccer game, for the assignment of Neymar Jr’s image rights.

During its commercial peak, Ronaldo's 9ine company was an important partner in attracting sponsorships and seeking out partnerships. The market share of the company owned by the “Fenômeno” eventually declined and it closed its doors in 2016, but this did not affect Neymar's companies, which survived and continue to grow on their own. Today, Brazil’s former No. 9 runs a new company, Octagon, which manages the career of Gabriel Jesus, a Brazil teammate and friend of Neymar Jr.

Eike Batista's IMX is another company that has managed to maintain contact with and seek out deals for NR Sports and NN Consultoria. Neymar's father’s companies have survived the collapse of their partners without a hitch and continue to rely on a broad network of commercial allies. Entrepreneur Eduardo Maluf, for example, who took the coach Fabio Carille to Al-Wehda of Saudi Arabia, is one.

“It would be very difficult without all this. It was too big for me. So we have these business people who help us filter things out, so that everything arrives already “sifted“. I have to leave him free, focused on the pitch,” Neymar’s father told Globo in 2013.

Today, the organisation works for more than just Neymar. Lucas Lima of Palmeiras, young Santos striker Arthur Gomes and Olympic pole vault champion Thiago Braz are all on the companies’ books. The rise of the business means Neymar's father is seen as a respected dealmaker in Europe and Brazil, someone who can offer a “business opportunity” at any time. The importance and scale of his business, then, earn him the best treatment possible.

The red carpet was rolled out for him at Barcelona – even before the transfer was completed in 2013, he was in constant contact with director Raul Sanllehí. In May of that year, he received a letter from Barça's president, Sandro Rosell, promising to invest at least €100m million euros in the first five years of the deal. His wishes were carefully listened to at the Catalan club, and he was always treated warmly.

The story was repeated at PSG – in November last year, for example, the French club took an executive box from a sponsor to give it to Neymar’s team. Ney's father also has the sympathetic ear of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, whose dream it is to one day have the player at his club.

Last year, the Brazil squad was preparing for the World Cup qualifier against Chile at the Palmeiras training ground when Neymar's father and his entourage paid a visit to the club. As Tite's stars trained on the pitch under the gaze of the press, the president of “Neymar Inc.” was given exclusive entry, away from the eyes of the fans, and was closely accompanied by director Alexandre Mattos and president Mauricio Galiotte. It was no coincidence that days after the meeting the parties sealed Lucas Lima’s move to Palmeiras.

The Brazil National Side is an Impassable Limit for Business

The limit of the Neymar brand’s aggressive approach to business and growth is the Brazilian national side, which inspires complete respect. The player's father has ruled that all restrictions and instructions given by the CBF during the periods when Neymar is with the team are strictly followed.

When in charge of Brazil in 2015, Dunga imposed a training camp ban on any activities not related to the team. Neymar’s father ordered his staff to accept the decision, and to under no circumstances request any exemptions from the coaching staff or the CBF directors.

The team also has a good relationship with Tite and his coaching staff. The Brazil boss often allows the presence of friends and relatives at training camps and considers Neymar's close relationship with his father and family to be beneficial - he often states that the player has “his head in the right place” and has been well-raised.

In Liverpool, during Brazil’s preparation for the World Cup in Russia, Neymar’s father moved freely around the hotel, and the player’s friends were allowed into his room.

Even with such a frank and open relationship, the player and his team remain respectful towards the national side, and have made the decision not to respond to any questions about interest from Real Madrid until after the World Cup. The idea is that during the tournament Neymar’s name should only be connected with his performances on the pitch.

The Spanish club remains interested in Brazil’s No.10, and is considering ways to extract him from PSG, including asking Ronaldo for help. Neymar, meanwhile, looks positively on the possibility of a move, although he does not intend to force PSG’s hand. During the World Cup, however, the subject will be buried.

Over the next month, the “Neymar Inc.” machinery should continue to function smoothly behind the scenes. From July 15 onwards, whether Brazil wins its sixth world title or not, the engines will accelerate once more.

Translation: James Young